The Gathering Ireland 2013 can be described as a tourism marketing initiative with an emphasis on a "return to the ancestral homeland". It is aimed mainly at the so-called Irish Diaspora, first and foremost at Irish-Americans.
The idea behind the Gathering Ireland 2013 is a visit or return to Ireland during the year 2013, to take part in specially organised local "gatherings" (a term that encompasses about everything from a small family reunion via a village fete to the county fair) and other events throughout the year.
For this purpose leaflets have been printed, ad campaigns started and a dedicated website The Gathering Ireland 2013 set up, all promoting events registered under the common headline. As there is a fairly lenient registration process with next to no "quality control" in place, any event may be made part of The Gathering Ireland 2013 by its promoters, however slight the connection and with no regard tot he event being in any way special or unique to 2013 or a permanent fixture in the local social calendar.
While supported by the government (and you may expect Minister Leo Varadkar popping up at many of the media-heavy events), Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland emphasize the "grass-roots" concept of the events. This was made abundantly clear when for the official kick-off in Dublin (a concert on New Years' Eve 2012) no official invitations were sent to high-ranking politicians and even the President, who after all is patron of the Gathering Ireland 2013.
The idea for the Gathering Ireland 2013 first was formulated at the Global Irish Economic Forum held in 2009 at Farmleigh (Dublin). This forum, under the impression of the global downturn and the collapse of Ireland's banking system and economy, had the brief to develop the relationship between Ireland and the Irish Diaspora and to examine ways in which the diaspora could actively help to contribute to Ireland's economic recovery. This was in line with popular economists describing the Irish Diaspora as a "resource" (implying that it can be mined and exploited). The Gathering Ireland 2013 is marketed as addressing both, the "active help" being provided through additional overseas visitors and tourism revenue. To maximise revenue, marketing is also extended to all and sundry who simply want to visit Ireland without boasting any ancestral links at all.
Marketing seems to be aimed at three main areas of the Irish Diaspora - first and foremost the Irish-Americans from the USA, followed by Irish living in Great Britain. Both countries have traditionally provided a huge portion of the tourism income and profit from easy travel arrangements. The third group targeted are tourists from mainland Europe, again with easy access to Ireland.
It has to be noted that neither the idea nor the name are originally Irish - a similar initiative was run in neighbouring Scotland (in the year the Global Irish Economic Forum was held) under the heading of "Homecoming 2009". This included a two-day weekend event called "The Gathering 2009" in Holyrood Park, where 125 clans were represented and around 47,000 visitors attended. At the time it was seen as a success, but later figures revealed that the festival ended with a loss of around £ 600,000.
The Gathering Ireland 2013 has attracted advance criticism before the first event. Outspoken (and not always known to be politically correct) Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary simply called the initiative "The Grabbing". Actor Gabriel Byrne described the whole concept as a "shakedown" of the Irish Diaspora. Both sentiments were echoed in a cartoon published in the Phoenix Annual, which showed the arrivals hall at Dublin Airport with waiting crowds holding aloft signs asking for "Dollars".
It has also been noted that there is no real reason for choosing 2013 as the year of "The Gathering" - unless one wants to suggest that Irish-Americans might be lured by the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy Visit.